Citgo Petroleum Corp. said it will appeal a Texas federal judge’s decision to fine the oil giant more than $2 million for illegally operating oil tanks in Corpus Christi, Texas, without covers, which exposed nearby residents to a multitude of toxins, and for intentionally allowing migratory birds to die within those tanks for several years.
U.S. District Judge John Rainey issued the fines to Citgo and subsidiary company Citgo Refining & Chemicals Co. for violations of the federal Clean Air Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The fines stem from the corporations’ 2007 jury convictions that Citgo operated oil-water separating tanks with open tops that lacked the required emission controls.
U.S. law mandates that such tanks have either a fixed or floating roof with proper ventilation of petroleum gases and fumes. Lack of the proper equipment caused nearby communities to be exposed to benzene, a petrochemical that is a known carcinogen, and other substances with a potentially devastating impact on health.
“Citgo’s illegal and careless operation of two massive tanks without emission controls exposed residents — the company’s neighbors — in the Oak Park and Hillcrest communities of Corpus Christi to unacceptable health impacts from toxic chemical emissions,” said Robert Dreher, head of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “I am grateful to the prosecutors, the victim specialists and the federal and state investigators for fighting tirelessly for justice for these residents who deserve to breathe clean air and to be protected under the nation’s Clean Air Act.”
The open tanks also caused the deaths of birds that cross the Gulf of Mexico as they migrate. In 2007, just days after Citgo’s Clean Air Act convictions, Judge Rainey convicted Citgo of three counts of unlawfully taking migratory birds and aiding and abetting the taking of migratory birds.
According to Law360, “Citgo moved to vacate the migratory bird conviction, arguing that it wasn’t liable because the MBTA was limited to just poaching, hunting or trapping birds and didn’t apply to commercial activity.”
Judge Rainey, however, let the conviction stand, saying that because Citgo knew for years that the migratory birds were entering the tanks and dying in them but failed to do anything about it, it was in fact liable.
Citgo said on Thursday that it would appeal the judge’s decision to the Fifth Circuit.